Napoleon and the Institute of Egypt – 1798


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The Institute of Egypt formed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, capitalised on the work of scholars and technical experts to support the French expeditionary force. It was burnt down on 17th December 2011 – thousands of historical documents were lost in the fire.  Below is an excerpt from 1898 – published in the Westminster review detailing Napoleons involvement.  Here is a recent news article about the fire

 Napoleon and the Institute of Egypt – 1798

NapoleonThe Institute of Egypt must not be passed over.  Composed of the savants of the expedition, Napoleon himself figuring in it as a mathematician, it had four sections, like its Paris prototype; mathematics, physics, political economy, literature and art.  Monge was president, Napoleon vice-president.

It met twice a week, and busied itself with the manufacture of saltpetre, the erection of windmills, hydraulic machines for supplying cisterns, bread-making, substitutes for wine, dyes, ophthalmia, the fauna, flora, and antiquities of the country.  The ornamental was mingled with the useful.  Perseval de Grandmaison recited translations of Tasso and Camoens, and Marcel turned passages of the Koran into French verse.  Napoleon was a regular attendant, and read a paper on the Cairo rate of mortality.  At one sitting Monge explained the mirage. Two commissions were sent out to Upper Egypt to report on its monuments, and these were attended with considerable risk, for even an escort, though indispensable, did not always ensure safety.

The library was open to all comers.  So also were Berthollet’s chemical experiments, which the natives, however, took for alchemy.

A printing office was under the same roof, and the garden behind was converted into a botanic garden, an observatory being also erected in it.  Napoleon, by the way, who occupied Ibrahim’s palace, had the spacious garden, an Oriental thicket, cut up into avenues and adorned with fountains.  Two newspapers in French were published by Desgenettes, one scientific, the other political, but the file of the latter is disappointing. European news naturally fills a large part of it, and the Egyptian information is meagre.  It was carried on from August [1798] to June [1801].

Napoleon, of course, visited the Pyramids and Suez.  On reaching the foot of the first pyramid, he set his savants to run a race in scrambling to the top, while he remained behind, laughing boisterously and spurring them on.  Monge, though by no means the youngest, for he was fifty-two, won the race. It is not easy to imagine the “great unamusable,” as Talleyrand styled him, indulging in merriment, but Napoleon was then under thirty, and had not yet felt the cares of empire.

Excerpt from The Westminster Review – Volume 150 – 1898


Further Reading and External Links

Saving Egypts Precious Fire-Bombed Books 

National Geographic – Temple of Knowledge Article